Secretary Panetta has repeatedly emphasized the mechanism rather than the scale of sequester, as he did in a recent Pentagon briefing:
The sequester will cut another $500 billion across the board from our national security budget, and do it in a way that threatens to hollow out our national defense.
This remark suggests that the nature of sequestration, not necessarily the resulting overall funding levels, threatens to “hollow out” the armed forces. In Senate testimony last month, Panetta even seemed to suggest that if the mechanism of sequester were changed, there might be room to “do what is necessary":
[Sequestration] would result in a doubling of cuts -- another $500 billion that would have to be cut through this kind of formulaic, meat-axe approach that was designed into that process. And it would guarantee that we hollow out our force and inflict severe damage on our national defense… I know the members of this committee are committed to working together to stop sequester, and I want you to know that we are prepared to work with you to try to do what is necessary to avoid that crisis.
His remark about being “prepared to work” to avoid sequestration indicates that, if further cuts prove inevitable, he’d rather have them made in a strategic manner. And shortly after the testimony, the Senate Armed Services Chairman, Carl Levin, floated the possibility that more cuts done through a different mechanism than sequester might offer a solution, setting up a dynamic we’ve previously said is more likely than sequester.